All you need to know about Tennis Elbow Straps and Knee Braces to stay at the top of your game.
There is no denying that tennis is a pretty physical game. Although the sport can be played at a leisurely pace, more often than not, athletes will find themselves sprinting back and forth around the court to save some crucial points. And considering it is barely very little or no cushioning at all on most tennis courts, the sport is bound to take a toll on one’s ankles and knees especially you are a regular player.
The sport itself also involves a high amount of rigorous pivoting as you hit the ball back and forth. Again, this is another significant source of impact on the joints in your ankles or knee. Thus, if you don’t slip/fall accidentally when hurtling and lunging back and forth on the court, then repeated strain, overuse or fatigue will be the reason behind a majority of the injuries you sustain in tennis practice or play.
And with that as the backdrop, it is important to highlight each of the physical risks associated with the sport in detail together with the numerous ways to mitigate them.
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Tennis Elbow Explained
A Tennis Elbow typically results from the overuse of the forearm, arm, or general hand muscles that often result in sharp elbow pain. Due to the physical nature of this condition, it is more likely to affect men than women as far as playing tennis regularly goes. And unlike most injuries, a tennis elbow will start from a small tear – which you will most probably not feel – then progressively advance and worsen over time.
Typically, the swelling originates around the elbow area then slowly progresses to the upper as the condition worsens. It is at this juncture that even shaking hands or squeezing objects becomes problematic, difficult, or very painful. The elbow will worsen with every sudden movement of the wrist such as when opening jars, lifting, or just handling a toothbrush.
Choosing the Right Tennis Elbow Support
The good news is that the right tennis elbow brace/support can come in handy is such a nerve-wracking, teeth-grinding scenario. It is fitted to take the load off the inflamed elbow tissues as much as possible. However, there are three major versions of this kind of support in the market, and each of them is optimized especially towards a unique type of tennis elbow treatment or prevention. The best support for you will be determined/influenced by a myriad of factors such as your lifestyle and frequency of play.
Here is a quick primer to that.
a.) The Epicondylitis Clasps
You have seen these on professional athletes such as Roger Federer or Andy Murray. Rafael Nadal also sports one occasionally. Price-wise, these clasps are a little more expensive than conventional braces and have to be fitted appropriately if they are to be effective enough to allow you the luxury of enjoying the game now-and-then during recuperation.
The most common tennis elbow clasp consists of a clip or a plastic fastener that is fitted securely around the arm a few inches below the most painful part of the elbow. The strap – which has a pressure point on the lateral epicondyle muscle – absorbs a good deal of the shock caused by any sudden jerk that could easily worsen the elbow. In other words, the shock is spread out through the tissues by changing the angle at which the lateral epicondyle works. And this mechanism can be employed when relieving the symptoms of tennis elbow or simply lessening the risk of injury during a strenuous duel.
The biggest advantage of an Epicondylitis Clasp is that it can be applied accurately to the point of inflammation ( or weakest part of the forearm ) if fitted precisely by a professional. That being said, it is relatively more expensive than simple straps, and sometimes it is not easy to tie up the exact point to relieve an inflamed elbow. It is best recommended to skilled tennis players who need a source of precise support for a high-impact game.
b.) The Tennis Elbow Straps
Just as the name suggests, this is a simple brace that is wrapped around the arm just below and over the elbow. A few of them also have additional pressure cushioning pads that are meant to sit the muscle just below the point of inflammation on the elbow.
Elbow straps work by compressing the upper part of the forearm then absorbing the shock/forces transmitted via the soft tissues from the wrist to the point of pain. Additionally, they also change the overall angle at which the muscle-tendon works relative to the elbow region thereby allowing the inflamed attached tendon the luxury to recover without any unnecessary strain.
Unlike clasps, tennis elbow straps are quite inexpensive, very easy to fit/tie and have an adjustable level of compression to suit a wide array of players. Nonetheless, they are deemed as less precise – and thus less efficient – compared to epicondylitis clasps. They are recommended mostly for people with mild tennis elbow symptoms.
c.) The Tennis Elbow Sleeve
It is a combination of a simple sleeve and tennis elbow strap. In this arrangement, the sleeve provides support, compression, and warmth for the injured elbow while the strap can be tightened around the uppermost part of the forearm to work as a simple elbow strap.
One unique benefit of this type of elbow support is that it insulates and warms up the area surrounding the inflammation which aids and accelerates the healing process. It is general knowledge that non-acute or recently injured tendons respond positively to heat. And that’s not all. The sleeve also supports the entire joint. Therefore, if there are other injuries – other than the tennis elbow inflammation – this kind of support is highly recommended. The only drawback is that tennis elbow sleeves are generally cumbersome to play with or wear compared to clasps and straps. Again, if not tied properly, the effective tightening of the forearm strap may not be as accurate as required for one to make a speedy recovery.
In conclusion, tennis elbow sleeves are mostly recommended for first-time tennis elbow patients or those who are willing to take several days off the court as they recover.
The Tenets of Proper Knee Support During Tennis
Just like in any other highly physical sport, knee injuries are quite a common problem in tennis. If you are not careful, you could be looking at anything from blown ACLs, MCLS, PCLS to torn cartilages.
For this reason, it is important to have the proper type of knee support accessory in your turf whether you’re a leisure player or an aspiring professional tennis athlete.
Check Simon’s personal experience with Knee Braces, Straps and Bands here
That said, here is a close look at some of the accessories that can be used to mitigate or relieve your knee injuries.
a.) Knee Braces – For the Recovering and Injured Tennis Player
Knee braces are typically only worn when there is an existing knee injury. And under knee braces, there are several specialties in the market which include;
I. Prophylactic Braces
These are best recommended to tennis enthusiasts who already have a history of knee injuries and are considered at a high risk of developing another one. Prophylactic braces are also best suited for people with badly damaged knees ( from previous incidences ) and would like to prevent a re-occurrence of the same.
II. Functional Braces
There are mostly recommended to patients and tennis players with already torn and damaged ligaments from past events. Their sole function is to reduce instability in the knees. This, is of course, perfect for recovering injured tennis athletes who generally still have to do a lot of pivoting, leaping, and twisting to win a game.
III. Rehabilitative Knee Braces
Like the above functional braces, these knee braces are perfect for a recovering athlete who wishes to take some time off the court to attend to his wounds. The only difference is that a rehabilitative brace has to be worn for several weeks after the injury for the athlete to make a full recovery. They are mostly recommended for relieving serious knee injuries that call for complete immobilization/restriction of the inflamed area to allow complete healing of the torn tendons.
For a wide selection of knee braces go please here.
b.) Knee Sleeves – For Performance and Protection
Tennis knee sleeves are almost like the knee braces mentioned above. But unlike the braces, the sleeves do not entirely restrict the normal movement of the knees using metallic hinges or rods. If anything, sleeves are meant to act as a ‘substitute knee’ that takes some of the pivotal pressure of the knees. Therefore, they do not interfere, limit or replace the normal function of your knees. Needless to say, as far as tennis goes, knee sleeves are seen mostly as a preventive and support accessory than one to help you recover from your injuries. In fact, certain brands of knee sleeves are recommended for players with perfectly healthy knees but would like to keep injuries at bay.
You can never go wrong with investing in knee sleeves. They can be worn even during simple workouts or leisure/non-competitive matches. And this originates from the fact that one of a knee sleeve’s highlights is the unique compression that it accords the user. Such compression restrains muscle oscillation and also narrows blood vessels. From a biological point of view, this translates to little or no stress on the knee ligaments whilst promoting a better blood flow around the leg area. Otherwise, as a tennis enthusiast, your muscles, tendons, and ligaments are bound to endure a high amount of stress during a rigorous game. So it is only fair that you buckle up by fitting in a couple of knee sleeves before hitting the court.
c.) Knee Bands and Straps – Enhancing Performance and Preventing Injuries.
These wraps and bands are wound around the knee area in a characteristic spiral fashion to stave off accidental injuries and boost the athlete’s leg performance. Considering that the mode of play adopted by a majority of tennis players is very relatively harsh on the knees ( the pivoting, sudden jumps, and jerks ) the knee joints are continually predisposed to wear and tear as long you are on the court. However, with the knee wraps or bands in place, you can effectively reduce the chances of injury by lessening the strain on the ligaments and tendons. And this will consequently reduce the overall stress applied on the quadriceps and patella which significantly reduces the chances of tear from overuse and excessive pivoting.
Notwithstanding that, there is a catch to it. It is important to know that the wrong application of knee bands could easily backfire. If done wrongly, the excessive tightness of the knee bands will typically press the patella back on its cartilage, something that can accelerate a formative and long-term knee joint problem like arthritis.
So that leads us to another tentative question that most tennis players tend to ask;
How often or regularly should knee wraps and bands be used?
Well, while there are a lot of differing opinions about this, the consensus remains that knee bands and wraps should only be used during very competitive sessions. In other words, if you’re not nursing any knee injury, only go for knee bands if you anticipate a lot of running around, quick lunges and powerful swings – as it is the characteristic of any spirited tennis duel.
The Bottom Line
The benefits of tennis protective gear go beyond simple protection against common injuries likely to be sustained during play Contrary to what most people know, strapping your elbows and knees while playing increases the chances of one executing a tremendous pain-free force without tearing their ligaments. This principle, also known as counterforce bracing, has been applied by professional competing tennis athletes for several years now. If anything, a recent study indicates that you can produce about 16% extra raw force while using well-placed straps than when without. To that competing but injured athlete who is looking forward to a competitive match, this can make a huge difference between losing or saving a game. What’s more, through counter-force tennis elbow and knee straps, patients suffering from lateral epicondylitis can afford a better grip strength but with less pain. To sum it up, you should own at least one of every tennis protective gear listed above.
Check also our guide to best tennis shoes and best tennis bags.